A Stanford University study has suggested that there’s no robust evidence to support the idea that eating organic is healthier than non-organic food. Is eating organic better for you – or just clever marketing?
Organic. The very word makes me feel more nourished and wholesome.
I’m a Londoner – I ingest enough toxins from my daily commute. I don’t need more from my food. But organic does burn a bigger hole in my food shopping fund. Is it worth paying a premium to go organic?
Organic food and you
Stanford Uni’s research looked at 240 studies of nutrient levels in food and nutrition levels in humans, and found no robust evidence to suggest that organic food is nutritionally better for you than food that has been conventionally produced.
This backs up the findings of an independent 2009 report commissioned by the Food Standards Agency which took 50 years of studies into consideration and found there to be no important differences in nutritional value between the two. Even our own Gardening team’s small-scale trial found that the veg they grew non-organically tasted better, had more nutrients and often higher yields.
Yet, not all reports back up Stanford Uni’s findings. The US watchdog Consumer Reports questions the media’s coverage of the research, pointing out its ‘severe limitations’. For example, some of the studies Stanford Uni looked at did find nutritional benefits to eating organic.
Organic food and the environment
Advocates of organic food argue that it’s not all about whether the food is nutritionally better for you. There’s the question of exposure to pesticides and fertilizers, which sound like things you’d want to avoid when you’re eating your five-a-day.
Stanford Uni’s review did actually find that organic food is 30% less likely to include pesticides, but whether exposure to these agro-chemical residues make a difference to how healthy you are is another question.
There’s also the environment to think about. In our Convo on organic gardening, Emma said:
‘We cannot carry on poisoning the land and watercourses with pesticides and destroying every living creature in the garden just to deal with a few pest species. Organic gardening is about living in balance with nature and that for me is the most important aspect of it.’
Another review, this time by Oxford Uni, found that although organic farms produced less pollution by land area, per unit of food they produced more than their non-organic counterparts. Still, the organic farms did have better soil and were home to more species.
Is organic always the answer?
These recent studies have reignited interesting questions that are at the heart of eating organic – is the impact on the environment as significant as you think it is? Is it really healthier than non-organic food?
Personally, I think there other ways to guarantee your food is healthy and good for the environment. Growing your own or buying local produce, seems more important to me than buying organic that’s shipped in from afar. Fairtrade, which helps towards sustainability and poverty alleviation, is also the label I tend to look out for more.
But perhaps that’s by the by? Are you an organic advocate or sitting on the farming fence?